Every country has its own list of taboo topics, and South Korea is certainly no exception.
While this is by no means an exhaustive list, here’s a few of the main conversation landmines to avoid:
Anything about Japan
Really, anything and everything involving Japan is better left unsaid. These two countries have a long and complicated history, one that has left many Koreans angry and resentful, especially because both countries still argue about who rightfully owns Dokdo Island. It’s all really dicey, so it’s best to avoid this topic all together.
This just depends on the company you’re in. Some Koreans are happy to talk to you about North Korea, and many hope to see a unification of the two countries in their lifetime. And many still have family there. But you just never know how a native Korean is going to feel about discussing it with a foreigner. It’s a very emotional and divisive issue, and one better left alone.
In general, Koreans are more conservative than Americans. They don’t talk as openly about sex as we do, and bringing it up in conversation is a good way to make someone feel uncomfortable. While the younger generation is definitely more comfortable with the topic, it’s still only discussed with good friends.
While this isn’t a conversation topic, being quiet will get you far in Korea. As I’ve mentioned before, women are quieter and more reserved here – and while it’s not always necessary, it’s more respectful to talk quietly in public places. It can also help you to blend in more, and avoid being that obnoxious foreigner.
Do you have any stories about saying the wrong thing at the wrong time? What taboo topics have kept you quiet?
“Shhh” is absolutely correct. As an American I didn’t realize how loud we are in public. When I think about it no matter where I go whether on the subway, crossing the street, or in a crowded complex there isn’t any loud talking nor loud laughing.
I currently teach english in Korea and I find that my students are usually open on topics of Japan and North Korea, simply because they want to tell me about their history. But I have heard from other teachers that some of their students are sensitive on the topic of Japan.
I totally agree about being quiet. We North Americans are so freaking loud!